Build Trust, Communicate Consistently, And Show Up
Working online is a given nowadays. However, achieving effective digital collaboration is trickier. Lack of real-life presence and body language cues can make connecting more difficult and, as a result, collaboration is less effective. This series of eLearning Skills 2030 explores the key skills, both soft and technical, that you need to future-proof your career and lead your team. This article explores the skill of digital collaboration, why it is critical, and what actionable steps you can take today to improve.
What Is Digital Collaboration?
During the 2020-21 covid19 pandemic, we all lived the power and impact of digital collaboration and experienced the incredible results and even the fatigue that comes with it. Whether holding online meetings on platforms like Zoom and MS Teams, delivering learning over webcasts and live online courses, collaborating in team chatrooms, co-authoring documents, and shared spreadsheets, immediately connecting through instant messaging, networking through social media, or exchanging information over traditional email, we all have lived digital collaboration. The kicker is that digital collaboration will likely continue to increase even as organizations are fumbling with returning to the office and exploring hybrid workplaces.
Why Is Digital Collaboration Essential?
Despite the zoom fatigue we all have recently experienced, digital collaboration will continue to increase because of several positive business outcomes, including improved efficiency, expanded team interaction, quick access to information, increased speed of decision making, easier knowledge sharing, and decreased organizational knowledge silos. Generation Y and Generation Alpha have grown up with digital collaboration and engagement tools and platforms, including Wikipedia, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Tik Tok. People worldwide collaborate digitally to solve problems, learn new things, connect, and generate new ideas. As a result, digital collaboration increased creativity and innovation at the employee level, flattened hierarchies, and improved communication in numerous organizations. At the organizational level, digital collaboration decreased costs associated with travel and brick-and-mortar offices. It boosted morale as employees were no longer tethered to the brick-and-mortar office but could work from anywhere they wanted more efficiently. Research by MIT Sloan revealed that digital collaboration platforms, which include several collaboration tools and channels that enable employees to interact, have made expertise more visible within organizations, facilitated the ability of employees to work more efficiently on various projects across project teams, leverage networks inside and outside the organization and develop meta-knowledge traditionally shared through communities of practice or rotational programs.
How Can You Sharpen Your Digital Collaboration Skills?
To collaborate effectively on digital platforms, you will need to have digital skills to know how to navigate the technical elements of the platform you are using and digital netiquette. In this article, I offer three tactics to build your digital netiquette: building trust, using clear communication, and being prepared.
One of the key first steps to building trust in a digital environment is meeting and getting to know your team members. One way to do this is to spend the first few minutes in your one-on-one meetings asking about your team members’ day-to-day life. You can ask about their family member’s health and well-being, hobbies, and pets. Asking basic questions such as these reminds us that our human connections come first. A second way to get to know each other is to meet for 15 minutes or so with members of the organization you don’t know well to chat about common or new interests and set up a virtual peer-to-peer mentoring program that empowers team members to learn from each other. Leaders in various organizations set up virtual office hours or coffee hours with their teams to strengthen engagement. These meetings are usually not mandatory and can create a personal and informal virtual setting that helps team members connect and build trust.
Communicate Transparently And Consistently
The digital workplace strips away body language cues and, as a result, makes it difficult for us to connect with less visual and body language data. Additionally, the virtual workplace adds stressors like navigating audio and video technology mishaps, toggling from one virtual meeting to the next, tending to a child who needs a snack, or trying to calm a barking dog, often concurrently. During virtual communication, we can build trust by being transparent and consistent. Being banner means that you clearly articulate what you mean and also that you mean what you say. Your actions, in any setting, whether physical or virtual, will need to align with your words. In a virtual environment being transparent can be more complex because others cannot see you in person, and they may miss any body language clues. Being consistent virtually or otherwise, includes several elements, including showing up, sticking to a schedule, and being prepared.
Show Up Prepared
When collaborating digitally, showing up means clearly stating when you will be available online and when others will not be able to reach you. When you are online, you must show up on time. If you are leading the meeting, it is always a good idea to show up 5 to 10 minutes earlier to test your audio and video, as well as your ability to share your screen on which you will be sharing slides or other visuals. Being prepared means that If you are leading the meeting, it is always a good idea to show up 5 to 10 minutes earlier to test your audio and video as well as your ability to share your screen in you will be sharing slides or other visuals. Being prepared also means that you have prepared an agenda and that you have defined the goal for the meeting and shared it with the team ahead of time. It also means that you are prepared to answer questions and address concerns participants may have during the meeting. Here, the earlier points about communicating transparently and consistently come into play.
While today we may take working online for granted after more than two years of engaging and transacting online, digital collaboration goes a step further and requires three underlying skills to be effective: building trust, communicating transparently and consistently and showing up prepared.